George A. Custer and his Two-Time MOH Winning Brother, Thomas, Two Years Before Little Bighorn

Signed by George Armstrong Custer

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Item: 21740
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CUSTER, GEORGE ARMSTRONG. (1839-1876). American cavalry officer best remembered for his “last stand” at the Battle of Little Bighorn. DS. (“G.W. Custer”). As Brevet Major General. 1p. Folio. Fort Abraham Lincoln, March 29, 1874. A partially printed discharge, emblazoned with the Great Seal of the United States, issued for Augustus Rathman, serving under Michael V. Sheridan’s Company L of the Seventh U.S. Cavalry. Countersigned by Custer’s younger brother, First Lieutenant THOMAS WARD CUSTER (1845-1876, “T.W. Custer”), who also died at Little Bighorn. Thomas Custer was the first two-time recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and the only Civil War veteran to have been awarded the medal twice for combat during the war.

Prior to making his name as an Indian fighter, Custer had been a distinguished cavalry officer in the Civil War. He had graduated from West Point in 1861 and joined the Union Army with the rank of second lieutenant, serving on General McClellan’s staff and fighting at Antietam, Chancellorsville and in other campaigns. In 1863, just prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, Custer was promoted to brigadier general and took command of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade.

George Armstrong Custer

After the war Custer led Union occupation forces in Texas before he was mustered out. In 1866, he was appointed lieutenant colonel of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, a demotion that upset him, but marked the second phase of his military career – placing him on the hostile Western frontier. Custer served under Winfield Scott Hancock and Philip Sheridan during the American Indian Wars, and in 1873 he was promoted commander of Fort Abraham Lincoln in modern Mandan, North Dakota, which had recently been established on the site of a Mandan village at the confluence of the Missouri and Heart rivers. Custer’s 7th Cavalry Regiment was stationed there to clear a path for the expanding Northern Pacific Railway, but the discovery of gold in the Black Hills led to further U.S. encroachment into Indian Territory that culminated in the Great Sioux War of 1876, alternatively known as the Black Hills War, in which the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne fought the U.S. Army. On June 25, 1876 Custer led his cavalry troops into battle near the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory, and was killed by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors fighting under Sitting Bull. Custer’s brother Thomas, who had earned two Medals of Honor during the Civil War and served as his brother’s aide-de-camp, also died in the memorable battle, as did a third brother, Boston Custer, a civilian guide and scout for the 7th Cavalry.

The discharged cavalry officer named in our document was born in Prussia, fought in the Civil War and enlisted for another five years on March 29, 1865. Our document includes a physical description of Rathman whose character is described as “excellent.” Rathman was part of the regiment of Michael V. Sheridan (1840-1918), General Philip Sheridan’s brother and aide-de-camp.

Written on sturdy, folded vellum; Custer’s signature overlaps some of the text. Normal dust staining and wear and in overall very good condition. Of great rarity; only the second document signed by both Custer brothers that we have seen for sale in more than 40 years.

Estimate: $15,000-$20,000

George A. Custer and his Two-Time MOH Winning Brother, Thomas, Two Years Before Little Bighorn

Signed by George Armstrong Custer

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